Trump is famously impressionable. Back in August, the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported, “Trump tends to echo the words of whomever last spoke to him, making direct access to him even more valuable.” This is, to put it mildly, not a great quality for a chief executive. But we’ve already seen it on display a number of times during his short presidency—only a few days ago John Kasich came close to saving Obamacare during a conversation with the president:
After meeting with Ohio Gov. John Kasich last Friday, he seemed to show the governor support on his plan and had Secretary Tom Price meet with Kasich on Saturday, even though Kasich’s plan contrasted with current Washington thinking. Kasich came away unclear whether his plan would get any more traction.
Trump’s impressionability was on full display in an interview with Fox & Friends that aired on Tuesday morning, ahead of his anticipated not-State of the Union address. In that interview, Trump was asked by Brian Kilmeade if he thought Barack Obama was “behind” the protests that have erupted at town halls across the country:
The headlines that have accompanied this video have been accurate—usually along the lines of: “Trump: Obama possibly behind leaks, protests.” But it took a hell of a lot of prodding to get him there, through a briar patch of leading phrases. Trump is asked: “It turns out [Obama’s] organization seems to do a lot of these organizing to some of the protests that these Republicans are seeing around the country against you. Do you believe President Obama is behind it and if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid presidents’ code?” (Organizing for America, the group being referred to here, has become a boogeyman on the right, but is nowhere near as all-powerful as conservatives would like it to be.)
When Trump still doesn’t take the bait—“I think it’s politics,” he shrugs—Kilmeade jumps in again: “But Bush wasn’t going after Clinton; Clinton wasn’t going after Bush.” And then, finally, the mind-meld is complete. Trump gives the answer that Kilmeade was looking for, which is that Obama and his people are behind both the leaks coming out of the White House and the protests.
So, yes, Trump is reading from the Nixon playbook once again, blaming one of his predecessors for his political troubles. But the other story here is that Trump is the kind of horse that will drink the water once you’ve brought him to it. In just a few seconds, if you prime him right, he will say whatever you want him to say.